At 42 she decided life was too short to settle for misery. Five years and three questions later she’s too fired up to ever settle again.
We have all heard the expression “life is short,” and the older I get, the more I can relate. Life is short, too short to settle for a job you are miserable in.
At age 42 I was miserably unhappy in my career, so one day I finally asked myself these three questions: Why am I here? What am I good at? What do I enjoy?
These three questions broke my world wide open, sending me on what appears to be a never- ending, adventure filled, personal and professional journey!
My answers were simple, really. First off, I had what my mother referred to as a “chicken heart.” She just meant that I was highly sensitive to the suffering of others, empathetic. I also found myself strangely comfortable, enjoying the company and conversations of not only my teenage children, but also their teenage friends. I was genuinely interested in their lives, and what I found even more interesting, was that they were letting me into theirs.
My kids began recommending that their friends talk with me when they were feeling troubled. One day in particular that I will never forget because it turned out to be the first “peek” into answering that first question, “Why I am I here?” I had a car full of my teenagers, their friends, and my mother in-law in tow, when yet another problem solving, therapeutic-like conversation broke out amongst the teens and myself. Then “out of the blue,” my son Justin suggested that I should be a counselor.
At the time I didn’t think too much about it, but as time went on, Justin’s suggestion would unknowingly “take up shop” in a corner of my mind, and eventually it would be the catalyst for answering that first question, “Why am I here?” Could it be I was meant to help people? And what exactly would this mean?
In the months that followed, I began deliberating over my current situation, I was a Human Resource Generalist at a large non-profit mental health agency, (no coincidence here right?) and had big plans of prospering financially in my future business career.
There was only one problem – I was miserable, and I knew it had nothing to do with the organization. It was the mundane, “nine to five” professional life-style. Practicality and money had always been my “go to,” occupations. I did not pick my career based on what I was “here” for. I picked my occupation for convenience’s sake, and this was no longer serving the “deeper” part of me; my purpose.
With my husband’s support, I left that up and coming business career — five classes away from finishing my Masters degree in Business Education — to begin a new career in mental health counseling.
This leap of faith meant making lots of changes, starting all over again, beginning a three-year Masters degree Program. Risk taking is scary, and not typically my style, but staying stuck and miserable in a career I did not enjoy seemed scarier. I took a BIG deep breath, several if I remember correctly, and I “dug down deep” within myself to find the courage necessary to step, no JUMP, into unfamiliar territory. I asked myself, “Could I do it?” “Was I making the right decision?” Only time would tell.
Almost five years have passed since I took that leap of faith, and at each new turn, down this winding, bumpy road, I still find myself asking those first three questions, only now they are followed up with affirmations. I hear myself softly, saying,
“You can do it Melissa, keep moving.”
I am now graduated, exams passed, and licensed to do this thing that I do. I am moving onward, and hopefully “upward,” in this new career of helping others. As I said in my graduation speech titled, “We Are Never Done,” and this continues to be as true for me as the day I stood shaking in my cap and gown, while reading it; I am on my way, but I am never done.
As much as I love this work, I’d be lying if I said it has been all sunshine and roses. I often have to remind myself why I chose this path. The mental health field is not an easy field to work in, but what broken system of care is?
Combined with starting a private practice, it can all be quite a “beautiful mess!” BEAUTIFUL is the optimal word here. Yes, each new day may bring with it a new and different challenge, and I’m not above griping and groaning about these challenges. (I’m a counselor, not a robot).
My recent and most valuable epiphany came after a “difficult” day with several clients who didn’t show up and others who didn’t show up even when they were physically present.
“WHY? What is wrong with these….” Before I could even get the thought from my head to my mouth, I stopped, and said to myself once again, “Why did you choose this work Melissa?” And my response still remains, “To help people.”
Later that day, I fell upon a quote that validated my recent epiphany, softening my confused heart, and solidifying my position in this field of work:
“If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job more important.” ~ Barbara Colorose.
Isn’t it interesting how we translate what is truly important and turn it into difficult? I did, and when I realized what I had done it reached out and grabbed, my heart, thought processes, and intellect!
Despite all the risk taking, and “bumps and bruises” along the way, I would do it all over again in a “heart-beat!” I named my practice Parallel Pathways, Inc. because I believe that whether you are a clinician, or client, we are on a parallel pathway, a journey to self-discovery.
As a clinician my job is to “practice what I preach!” This translates into consistently taking care of SELF, while consistently asking the crucial question, “Why did I choose this work?” My answer is, and continues to be, “to help people,” on their path, their journey. No one said this would be easy, NEVER once did I hear anyone promise me that. But, I believe that the IMPORTANCE of what we are here to accomplish, should never be overshadowed by the difficulties within the work that we do.
Photo: Flickr/Quinn Dombrowski